The University of Richmond women's swim team continued its streak of excellence, winning its seventh straight Atlantic 10 Conference Championship.
The team beat second-place Xavier University on Feb. 23 in Buffalo, N.Y., by 202.5 points, despite entering the meet with only 14 swimmers and no divers.
The short-handed Spiders tallied 690.5 points during the championship, winning by its slimmest margin since beating St. Bonaventure University by 167.5 points in 2002 to begin the championship-winning streak.
The team quickly set the tone on the first day of the meet, winning both relays Wednesday night to jump to an early lead. The Spiders then extended their lead the following day by sweeping all three individual events.
The relay team of Jessica Witt, Lauren Beaudreau, Alex Helland and Katie Sieben set an A-10 record on Friday, winning the 400-meter medley relay with a time of 3:46.54. On the final day of the meet, the Spiders added 225.5 points on the way to clinching the championship.
Head coach Matt Barany won Coach of the Year honors for the third straight year while Witt was named the Most Outstanding Performer for the four-day meet.
"This year's formula was different," Barany said. "We did it with a smaller team and with a lot of freshmen, which means the odds of us winning were stacked against us."
Junior Beaudreau - a Lafayette, Calif., native - helped the Spiders to the championship by winning the 200-meter breaststroke on the final day of the meet.
"This year was the most exciting of the three that I've been a part of," Beaudreau said. "We only had 14 girls, so every race counted, and we couldn't let our guard down. Winning with a smaller margin was so gratifying."
Beaudreau is a two-time NCAA qualifier who has also qualified twice for the U.S. Olympic Trials. She said although she enjoyed her personal successes, her focus was on winning championships.
"We work really hard," Beaudreau said. "I think there is a culture of winning and excellence here."
Barany joined the team in 2005 following former head coach Matt Kredich's departure to the University of Tennessee. Barany said he understood he was following a successful coach, but he said he wanted to make sure he established his own system.
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"When the coaching transition happened, the roster changed as well," Barany said. "I understood that I followed a great coach, but I wanted to be myself and not try to create a program based around his philosophy."
Witt, a senior from Fullerton, Calif., said it was difficult to adjust to a new coach at first.
"It was pretty hard, especially because [Barany] was young and didn't have much experience," Witt said. "But it has definitely worked out."
Witt has qualified for the NCAA Championships twice during her collegiate career, and she holds several school and conference records.
Barany said the team's biggest challenge this year was helping the freshmen adjust while continuing to win.
"At the beginning of the year there was a real gap between our bottom and top swimmers, but the freshmen really stepped up," Barany said. "That gap has been narrowed - they've made that next step."
Witt said the freshmen on the team adjusted quickly, helping the team feel confident going into the conference championship. Freshman Nicole LePere set an A-10 record in the 200-meter backstroke, and she was the only swimmer to break an individual record during the championship meet.
Barany attributed the team's continued accomplishments to the athletes at Richmond and the work that they put in to ensure success.
"The type of athlete that UR attracts is highly motivated, highly dedicated," Barany said. "I think that the school is ideal for attracting top-notch athletes. There's been a culture that's been created."
Barany said he and assistant coach Kathryn Peterson maintained excellent relationships with their swimmers, adding that this year's team was a special group.
"The team dynamics were so rewarding," Barany said. "The seniors were leaders, not only in the water. Everyone looked out for each other. Before the championship, all I had to say to them was 'It's just us. Do we want to win a championship?'
Though the departures of seniors Witt and Andrea Denney will be costly, Barany said he thought the team would continue to break records and win championships.
"We have a very exciting recruiting class coming in," Barany said. "I hope we can continue to be successful."
As for this year's championship, both the players and coaches said they look at it as a challenging and rewarding win.
"This was the most fun I've had at the A-10 championships," Beaudreau said. "I think most anyone would say that as well."
Barany said he was proud of the win and the team's accomplishments, but he hopes to avoid this year's short-handed, close call uniqueness in the future.
"This year was a mystery," Barany said. "I'd like to think that the bigger challenges lie ahead. We had a tough one here this year, and we really don't need to have another one like that."
<em> Contact staff reporter Billy Finn at email@example.com<em>
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